Posts Tagged ‘motivation techniques’

How Margin Notes are Better than the Yellow Highlighter

We all remember the joys of highlighting articles and college textbooks with our favorite yellow marker. Aw, the smell! It is true that note-taking on the text is superior to note-taking on paper or on a computer. However, is yellow highlighting the best form of note-taking to improve reading comprehension and retention? In a word: no.

Highlighting text may even be counterproductive. Let’s face it. Highlighting takes time away from reading. It also interrupts the flow of what should be an internal dialogue between reader and author. If you stopped an important conversation every minute or so with an unconnected activity, you would certainly decrease your understanding of that dialogue. No doubt, you would also irritate your conversational partner!

Also, highlighting can’t be erased. Ever highlight what you thought was a main idea and find in a paragraph later that you were mistaken? Some even use white-out to un-do their highlighting errors!

Finally, highlighting limits effective re-reading and study review. When reviewing a highlighted text the night before an exam, your eyes are drawn only to the highlighting. You miss out on the possibility of revising your understanding of the text or seeing the author’s train of thought from another angle.

Now that I’ve de-bunked the cherished highlighter, is there a better reading and note-taking option to improve reading comprehension? Yes. Try using marginal annotations.

Marginal annotations are simple pencil notes in the blank spaces of the text that promote interactive reading. Reading comprehension research is clear that internal dialogue with the text improves understanding and retention. “Talking to the text” makes reading comprehensible and memorable. Try using the following marginal annotation tips with your next article or text. Who knows, you might just save a few dollars on yellow highlighters!

  1. Write out definitions
  2. List examples
  3. Write a question mark for confusing passages or sections to review.
  4. Write comments. Personalize your reading with criticisms, praises, and insights.
  5. Write out questions. Reader-generated questions significantly increase reading comprehension.
  6. Summarize reading sections.
  7. Write down predictions as to where the author will go next or what conclusions will be drawn.
  8. Draw arrows in the margin to connect related ideas.
  9. Number key details that the author provides.
  10. Write a check mark in the margin when a key new term is introduced.

For more practical teaching strategy tips and free teaching resources, please visit

Find other reading strategies, including fluency assessments and multi-level  fluency passages on seven CDs with corresponding comprehension worksheets, as well as complete diagnostic reading assessments on two CDs, blending and syllabication activities,  phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,  390 flashcards, posters, games, and more to differentiate reading instruction in Teaching Reading Strategies.

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Six Steps to Active Listening

Much of our listening is passive. We frequently turn on the television not to watch, but to provide noise just to keep us company. While in the car, we turn on the radio to reduce the noise of traffic. If we are honest, we are also sometimes passive in our conversations. In response to “How did your day go?” we usually de-brief simply to vent or disengage from the activities of the day. We rarely expect our conversation partner to analyze and respond to everything that we say—in fact, we usually don’t want an interactive conversation. The problem is not the fact that we are sometimes passive in our listening. The real problem is that we have become so habituated to listening without real engagement that when we need to listen carefully, we are out of practice. So how can we turn the switch back on and replace passive listening with active listening when we really need to listen?

First of all, recognize that active listening is interactive and takes effort and practice. Learning new habits to replace old ones takes time and patience. However, everyone can improve listening skills by applying the Six Steps to Active Listening, summarized as ED IS PC. Who knows? Maybe you even know someone named Ed, who really is politically correct.


Eye contact with your conversation partner is essential. One of our famous poets once said, “The eyes are the windows to our souls.” When we “lock in” to the speaker’s eyes, we better focus on what is being said. We all remember a parent demanding, “Look at me, when I’m talking to you” or a teacher saying “Eyes on me!” to the class. Experience teaches the fact that eye contact improves attention to what is being said.


Distractions must be avoided at all costs. Anything or anyone that takes you away from active listening must be identified and eliminated to the extent that you can control. In a classroom or in a workplace, sitting next to your best friend or someone who is not actively engaged with the speaker will distract you from listening fully. Time to move! Avoid having toys within arm’s reach that will challenge your ability to pay close attention. Think of toys such as cell phones, pens, reading materials—any external stimuli that distract you from the 100% listening task.


Interact with the speaker. Get into the speaker’s mind and think like the speaker. A good speaker will have an organizational plan to any presentation. A lecture, interview, and meeting all have their own patterns of organization. Identify this pattern as soon as you can, and anticipate where the speaker is going next. Common organizational patterns include the following: cause and effect, reasons for, compare and contrast, chronological, issue and action step, main ideas or points and their key details/examples, problems and solutions, questions and answers, argument/opinion and justification.

Practice these interactive actions to increase your active listening:

-Ask questions to clarify speaker points.

-Maintain an internal dialogue with the speaker about each of the main points.

-If appropriate, make comments or answer questions.

-Connect to prior learning. How does what is being said now relate to what has recently been said?

-Focus on the main ideas and don’t get lost in the details. Recognize when your speaker gets off on a tangent or “bird walks.”

-Write down summary notes at the end of key speaker points—not in the middle of the point. Jot down questions or points to clarify for later.

-Hear the speaker out from beginning to end. Predict where the organizational pattern will take your speaker next and check your predictions as you listen.


Signal words that identify main ideas must be identified. Pay attention to the key words that signal the introduction of a new idea. Each pattern of organization has its own signal words to transition between ideas. For example, the chronology pattern makes use of “first,” “next,” “then,” “finally” and many more. Listening to these cues will help you concentrate better.


Posture matters! Sit up straight with feet flat on the floor. Adjust your seat or desk so that you are looking directly at the speaker, not from an angle. Keep both hands on the table or desk to maintain this posture. A bit uncomfortable? Good. Perfect relaxation induces passive listening. A little stress promotes active listening. Try to sit as close as possible to the speaker—front and center gets the most speaker attention and your best position for interaction.


Concentrate on what is being said and don’t daydream. Listening is a full time job. Develop the mind-set that you must fully understand everything that is being said, how it is being said, and why it is being said. Practice the mind-set that you will have to remember each of the main ideas and be able to use or apply each of these soon. A good trick is to pretend that you will have to repeat the speaker’s presentation immediately following.

For more practical teaching strategy tips and free teaching resources, please visit

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